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NPS Expansion: 1930s







New Deal



NPS 1933-39




Expansion of the National Park Service in the 1930s:
Administrative History

Chapter Five: New Initiatives in the Fields of History, Historic Preservation and Historical Park Development and Interpretation
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G. Movement Toward Passage of Legislation for National Program of Historic Preservation

The reorganization of 1933 revealed the lack of a comprehensive nationwide program for the selection, acquisition, and preservation of historical and archeological sites. The federal government had been unable to plan, promote, and develop a well-rounded national program for the preservation of American historical and archeological sites under existing legislation. Certain periods of American history were well represented in terms of historical areas, while others equally important in the growth and development of the nation were ignored. A well-rounded pageant of America in terms of historic sites had never been projected, and no systematic evaluation of the historical resources of the nation had ever been undertaken. Before 1933 leadership in the preservation of historic properties came primarily from historically-minded individuals, patriotic societies, and private groups.

Several factors helped to focus attention on the need for new legislation in the field of historic preservation in the early 1930s. Civic and private groups, motivated by community pride and anticipated commercial benefits, sponsored a large number of bills for the establishment of additional historical areas in the National Park System, pointing out the need for a systematic investigation of sites to insure wise selections. HABS directed attention to the vast number of important historical structures that were rapidly disappearing and the need for a comprehensive policy of wise selection based on high preservation standards. Leaders in the preservation movement who were familiar with historical activities in other countries called attention to the fact that while the United States had been the leader in the effort to preserve its outstanding scenic areas, it had only initiated haphazard efforts in the preservation of historical areas compared with the massive preservation efforts in most European countries. [34]

Early in November 1933 Major Gist Blair, son of Montgomery Blair, Postmaster General under President Abraham Lincoln and owner of the Blair House that would one day become the nation's guest house, visited President Roosevelt. Blair felt the need for a general plan that would coordinate the activities of the federal government in the field of historic preservation with those of the states and municipalities. On November 10 Roosevelt sent a note to Blair, inviting him to give

consideration to some kind of plan which would coordinate the broad relationship of the Federal Government to State and local interest in the maintenance of historic sources and places throughout the country. I am struck with the fact there is no definite, broad policy in this matter.

Roosevelt asked Blair to talk the matter over with Secretary Ickes and observed that legislation might be necessary. [35]

Blair conferred with Interior officials and at his request Director Cammerer provided him with a "Statement of Principles and Standards" that delineated the Interior Department's conception of the role that the federal government should play in historic preservation. The first section stated the principles and standards governing the selection of historical areas for inclusion in the National Park System. The criteria were the first such standards drafted by the Division of History and had not yet appeared in print as an official policy statement. According to the document the determining factor in the preservation of a historic site by the federal government was whether the site possessed "certain matchless or unique qualities which entitle it to a position of first rank among historic sites." That quality existed:

(a) In such sites as are naturally the points or bases from which the broad aspects of prehistoric and historic American life can best be presented, and from which the student of history of the United States can sketch the large patterns of the American story; which areas are significant because of the relationship to other areas, each contributing its part of the complete story of American history;

(b) In such sites as are associated with the life of some great Americans and which may not necessarily have any outstanding qualities other than that association; and

(c) In such sites as are associated with some sudden or dramatic incident in American history, which though possessing no great intrinsic qualities are unique and are symbolic of some great idea or ideal.

The remainder of the sites should be preserved by state or local governments or by private or semi-public organizations. To determine which sites possessed the quality of uniqueness, Cammerer suggested that the National Park Service should conduct a national survey every ten years beginning in 1935 and classify sites by listing them as "Potential National" or "Non-Potential National." He also recommended that a five-member national board on historic sites, composed of noted historians, architects, and archeologists, be appointed to assist in the "Decennial Survey" activities and aid in the classification and preservation of historic sites by making appropriate recommendations. [36]

Blair also gathered information and documentation from R.C. Lindsay, the British Ambassador, concerning British legislation and historic preservation practices. He forwarded these materials to President Roosevelt on March 7, 1934, who in turn sent them to Secretary Ickes three days later. [37]

Soon thereafter Blair submitted his own proposal calling for the formation of a national preservation commission that would administer and coordinate a wide variety of historical activities. On May 23 Ickes responded to the proposal in a letter to Roosevelt, which had been drafted by Chatelain, echoing the Park Service interest in developing a broad preservation policy but opposing the creation of a new federal agency when the Service had just consolidated its administration over all federal historical areas. The letter attempted to show that the commission would be a needless duplication of Park Service prerogatives in leading the development of a national preservation policy and would put the historical program back into the hands of amateurs at a time when professional historians had been brought in to bring order to the federal system of historic sites. Ickes felt the Department of the Interior had the capability necessary for the coordination and administration of historical resources and urged setting aside of Blair's plan in favor of a broad new survey under the National Park Service. [38]

During this time various preservation groups became actively interested in the promotion of a comprehensive national program of historic preservation. The General Society of Colonial Wars, of which Blair was a member, established a Committee on the Preservation of Historic Monuments and the Marking of Historic Sites. The committee held meetings in May and June 1934 in Washington and Williamsburg and conferred with Interior officials and various Congressmen. The Williamsburg board of directors, which had been watching the Park Service historical program with interest, also became interested in the movement for a national policy of historic preservation and gave tentative consideration to the idea of turning over Colonial Williamsburg to the Park Service. [39]

During the summer of 1934 the National Park Service was influenced by these historical groups as well as by Chatelain's continual prodding for an expansion of the existing historical program. As a result the bureau began to press more earnestly for the necessary legislation to implement a national program of historic preservation. The growing sentiment of the bureau for national legislation was evident in a report on recreational land use in the United States that the National Park Service prepared for the Land Planning Committee of the Natural Resources Board:

One aim of the Federal survey of historic sites now under way is to gather careful data and provide recommendations concerning legislation for general conservation of historical remains, as well as for the care of specific sites. The valuable, though sporadic, efforts of individuals, private groups, and even some of the States are not enough to prevent an irreparable historic and artistic loss to America. The Federal Government must assume its share of the responsibility in this problem, both in education and, where necessary, in control.

In regard to possibilities for a broad preservation program not necessarily involving direct Federal control, it may be pointed out that the most important general and basic legislation regarding historic and archeological sites in the United States is the act of the preservation of American antiquities, 1906, confirmed in purpose by the National Park Act of 1916. These acts provided only the barest legislative protection for areas already a part of the public domain and, with regard to those areas not at present public property, provide practically no protection at all. . . .

The various elements in this developing program come naturally together at this point. The activities of the Federal Government in conducting surveys of historic buildings and sites, its extensive experience with the historical values involved in specific sites already under Federal control, and its developing contact, through the International Commission on Historic Monuments, with the historic sites problem as viewed in other countries have laid the basis for an enlarged national program, including comprehensive legislation for the preservation of historic sites in America. . . . [40]

As early as the summer of 1934 Director Cammerer and Secretary Ickes were discussing the need for a historic sites and buildings branch within the National Park Service for the purpose of developing a federal historical restoration and preservation program. [41] On September 28 Ickes ordered Solicitor Nathan Margold to prepare a draft bill creating within the National Park Service a Division on Historic American Buildings and Antiquities to be headed by an assistant director. The new division, Ickes indicated,

will supervise and coordinate the collection of drawings, photographs, historical sketches and other data on historic American buildings. It will maintain a library of the same. It will also have authority to restore historic American buildings. The bill should give this Division or the Secretary of the Interior, for the use of this Division, power to accept gifts, either inter vivos or testamentary, including either money or property, which shall be devoted to the acquisition and maintenance of historic American buildings, etc. . . .

As future events would bear out, this request and recommendation by Ickes would lead to three important events in the implementation of a national program of historic preservation with the National Park Service as the leading agency in the process: establishment of a Branch of Historic Sites and Buildings, passage of the Historic Sites Act, and establishment of a National Park Trust Fund Board. [42]

After looking into the matter Margold came to the conclusion that further information was needed to draft the proposed bill. Because of his long-held interest in historic preservation under the aegis of the National Park Service Horace M. Albright, by now a successful businessman, persuaded his friend John D. Rockefeller, Jr., to back a detailed comprehensive study of preservation work and legislation both in the United States and Europe including an analytic study of the administrative structure of the Park Service's historical program. The study would provide the Secretary of the Interior with the necessary background information to enable his office to draft a comprehensive historic preservation bill. Shortly thereafter, Ickes appointed J. Thomas Schneider, a graduate of Harvard Law School who was working in Newark, New Jersey, as his special assistant to undertake the study, and Schneider commenced his work on November 15. [43]

Schneider toured a number of historical areas in the eastern United States, discussed the proposed historic preservation legislation with Park Service historians, preservation authorities representing various public and private organizations, and the staff at Colonial Williamsburg, and gathered data on European legislation and practice. In early January 1935 he drafted a bill with the help of Assistant Solicitor Rufus G. Poole, incorporating the overall plan for a national program of historic preservation as well as the administrative machinery for a national park trust fund board. On January 25 he officially turned over the draft bill to Ickes, noting that the bill was general in tone because he hoped to gather more specifics during his upcoming journey to Europe for incorporation in the bill at a later date. While in Europe he hoped to study European preservation policy and practice first hand and gather data for a report that he was preparing for Ickes. [44]

Chapter Five continues with...
Legislative History of Historic Sites Act and National Park Trust Fund Board Act


Last Modified: Tues, Mar 14 2000 07:08:48 am PDT

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